Wednesday, September 18, 2013

A Dish Best Served Burnt

With the phenomenal success of the Pretty Little Liars series, it's no surprise that more teen dramas set in idyllic, exclusive neighborhoods would creep up. But after watching Aria, Spencer, Hannah, and Emily tracking down the vengeful saboteur in their own lives, it's nice to see some ladies whipping up a cold dish of revenge in their own Home Ec classes. Here comes Burn for Burn, from Jenny Han and Siobhan Vivian.

The novel (first in a series, with the sequel, Fire with Fire, having been released earlier this year) follows Lillia, a popular and wealthy high-school student, with ambivalent feelings about the people she associates with; Lillia's childhood best friend, Kat, who resents how quickly she was forgotten, and is willing to send a former friend down in flames for what she's done; and Mary, a former fat kid who's slimmed down, and is prepared to stand up to the boy who made her life hell. Together, these three girls are going to bring down the cool kids... even though a dish best served cold, just might end up burning them back.

I usually hate books with split character narration, because they tend to end up being ineffectual at drawing differences in the personality and tone of the individual narrator's style, and simply use a quick character-shift to utilize blank narrative space for a cover for further drama (Yes, I realize that this can come off as a generalization, but this is something I'm serious about!). However, that was not the case in Burn for Burn: Lillia, Mary, and Kat all had their specific voices in the telling of the story, as well as additional insight into the interactions and motivations of the other characters. 

It wasn't just that the three main characters were compelling and interesting, either: each of the foundational characters were important as well, particularly through the gradual revelation of each's back story, which was incredibly effective. The community of people who built up Jar Island were fresh and interesting, even with their flaws.I need to make a distinct delineation, however: some of these characters, especially the periphery of the action present in the story, were still stock. Even some of the key antagonists came off as stock. They just were presented so in a new way, and their respective background stories brought additional depth, making them all that more compelling.

My absolute favorite character trait was the glimpses of paranormal ability in one of the main three girls. This is how paranormal fiction should work, with an ultra-suspenseful build-up, bits and pieces gradually displayed over a long period of time, with drama taking the front seat to any powers themselves (paranormal abilities are usually the result of additional emotional baggage, anyways; doesn't it make more sense that they are the more important of the two?).

The drama and suspense came on strong in this piece of YA. I'd even hazard a boast that I like it more than the Pretty Little Liars series, simply because of it's efficient strategies of revealing both back story and current plot development to build simultaneous tension, its engaging characters and believable-yet-mildly-utopian setting, and its general flawless execution of writing style. I just haven't seen much YA written this well before, especially with elements of paranormal fiction thrown in.

And to be honest, that cover is just one million kinds of gorgeous.

For YA fans interested in a new take on old genres, with unexpected twists, a lot of heart, and plenty of high school intrigue, this is a great note to start the school year on!

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